The books use a few words that might be unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t familiar with the UK and in some cases, British people who aren’t familiar with Oxford. If there are any terms you’re still confused by, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
Black Tie: The main type of formal wear – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_tie
Bop: Most colleges hold these parties roughly fortnightly. At weekends, the clubs that are frequented by students during the week tend to get taken over by local people, and the students party in college. The scale varies from one college to another, but the music tends to be cheesy, the drinks cheap and the dress code based on some form of fancy dress.
Chav: A derogatory term that is meant to refer to a certain style of dress (tracksuits, hoodies, baseball caps, tight ponytails) and attitude (surly, not interested in ever working, aggressive) but that is increasingly used more generally, and unpleasantly, to refer to anyone from a poor background.
College: Oxford university is divided into colleges, where students live, and do a large part of their socialising and studying.
Finals: As the name suggests, the final exams, taken towards the end of Trinity in a students third and final year (or fourth year in the case of a few subjects). Generally hellish, consisting of about eight three hour exams over the course of a week.
Hack: A half-affectionate, half-mocking term for those students who are obsessed with winning high office in Oxford societies, especially the Oxford Union. Hacking refers to the practise of talking to people purely to get their vote. As a result of this, hacks often get a reputation for being somewhat irritating and insincere.
Hilary: The second term of the academic year, running from January to March. It’s generally regarded as the dullest term, thanks to a combination of bad weather and a lack of any interesting events.
Michaelmas: The first term of the academic year, running from October to December. It’s notable for having fresher’s week at the beginning and a solid week of Christmas parties at the end, even though term usually finishes around the 4th December.
Oxford Union: Oxford has a variety of student societies for every subject, group and interest, but the Union is almost certainly the most famous and prestigious, and is in fact a good contender for most famous student society in the world. It was founded in 1823 as a debating society. Debates still take place, both competitive ones between students and ones in which famous speakers are invited, but a large part of its activities today revolve around social events and the fiercely fought elections for its committee. Not to be confused with the Student Union.
PPE: Philosophy, Politics and Economics, sometimes referred to, by the most pretentious, as “Modern Greats.” In many ways it’s the archetypal Oxford subject. A large proportion of people studying it want to become politicians and a surprising number of them manage it.
Prelims: The exams taken at the end of first year. In most subjects, they don’t count towards a final grade, but anyone doing badly is at risk of being kicked out of the University.
Public School: Rather confusingly, not, as the name suggests, a school that’s free to attend, but it’s total opposite – one of the top ten or so private schools in the country. They are generally boarding, male only (although this is starting to change), several hundred years old and very expensive. The most famous one is undoubtedly Eton, but others include Harrow, Winchester, Rugby and Marlborough.
Rah: Basically pretty similar to the American “preppy” but with a few British touches. Generally regarded as the polar opposite to a chav. A rah is a particular sort of posh student – privately educated, uber-confident, party loving and fond of the sound of their own voice. Outfit choice tend to include gilets, ugg boots, sweaters and anything by Jack Wills or Ralph Lauren. Rah is used both as a term of derision by students who are quieter or from more normal backgrounds, but also by rahs themselves.
Rustication – temporarily suspending a student, for either bad behaviour or bad performance.
Sent down – The next step after rustication – permanently banning a student from the University.
State school: The opposite of a public school, these are free and run by the government. In stereotype, they are rough, scary places. In practise, 93% of children in the UK attend this sort of school, and they therefore vary wildly from utterly grim to better than most private schools.
Toff: Another, more general term for a posh person
Trinity: the final term of the academic year, running from April until June. Although it’s subject the the vagaries of British weather, in theory at least it’s expected to be sunny, and therefore revolves around outdoor activities such as punting, rowing, picnics croquet and garden parties. Paradoxically, although it’s often regarded as the most fun term, it’s also the term in which exams take place for most students.
Tutorial: The main method of learning at Oxford, and one of the things that distinguishes the University from most others (apart from Cambridge). One or two students spend an hour sitting in a room with a professor, being interrogated by them about that week’s subject. Terrifying but invaluable.
Vac/Long Vac – the breaks between terms (long vac been the break between one year and the next. Supposedly they aren’t described as holidays because students are expected to carry on working.
White Tie: Like black tie on drugs. It’s formal wear for the most formal of occasions, and is generally only worn at the biggest balls, although dining societies are prone to wearing it a little more regularly. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_tie